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The Butler Project » Shut the Stuff Up!

Shut the Stuff Up!

Would you be happier with a new car? How about a new house? Do you like yourself more when you buy new clothing? Does your new furniture make other people respect you? Do you feel joy when you look at your massive DVD collection? Are you a bigger man because of the beer you drink?

I think I’m pretty enlightened when it comes to being materialistic, but lately I’ve noticed sometimes I let my Stuff stand in for my true identity (meaning I want others to see my cool new running shoes or my mac computer because of the assumptions those people will make about me when they see these things). I’m guessing most Americans do this, and it’s mostly subconscious. One of the effects of this thinking is that we fill our lives and our homes with meaningless Stuff.

Sure, it may be beautiful Stuff. It may be expensive Stuff. But studies are now showing excess Stuff actually bolsters low self esteem, and is related to self-doubt. So, while you think others are thinking more of you because of your Stuff, you are actually thinking less of yourself and feeling down about it.


Practicers of Fung Shui believe everything you own is energetically connected to your spirit. The more Stuff you have, the more tied down your spirit is, and the less freedom you have to become who you really want to be.

From a more practical stand point, the more Stuff you own, the more costs you have in cleaning, maintaining and storing you Stuff.

So, how do we quit our love affair with Stuff? How do we quit letting stuff speak to us about other people, or quit buying stuff that we want to speak to other people about us? How do we Shut the Stuff Up?

1. Stop watching so much TV

There’s a reason big ad agencies make so much money: they are good at what they do. Very good. And what they do is convince people to buy Stuff. Mostly they try to convince you that you can be better/smarter/more attractive if you buy their product.
They are lying.

So, avoid TV if you can, and when you do watch it, use your DVR to fast forward through the commercials.

2. Read fewer magazines

Magazine publishers actually make more money selling ad space than they do subscriptions. Home magazines are designed for advertisers of appliances and flooring. Car magazines are designed for advertisers of performance parts and garage “essentials.” Travel magazines are designed for advertisers of luggage, vacation packages, and travel clothing. Print advertisers are just as good at their jobs as TV advertisers. Read fewer magazines. Same goes for billboards.

3. De-junk your spaces

Have you looked around at the clutter you’re keeping? Are there clothes in your closet you don’t wear? Is your junk drawer overflowing? Has your garage become a big storage room instead of a place for your car?

All the unnecessary Stuff you are hanging onto is trapping you in your past. It weighs on you as it clutters your space. Some of your Stuff may be from past relationships, or other phases of your life that you are through now. Some of the items may be from impulse purchases you now regret, or they may represent the debt you’re carrying around.

Can you see how this stuff weighs on you?

My personal code of de-junking

When I am cleaning up and deciding if I want to keep a particular item or not, I ask my self these questions:
1. Do I feel happy/peaceful when I look at this object?
2. Have I really needed to use this object in the last year?

If neither of these is a resounding “yes,” then the object needs to go to a new home. I happily throw the trash away and take those things I no longer need to the thrift store. You might want to hold a garage sale. Whatever works for you to clear out your clutter is a good thing.

By the way, don’t forget your office or car; any space you use can be de-junked.

4. Shop smarter; Shop less

Have you ever noticed that when you run to the store to just pick up some diapers and a gallon of milk, you come out with those two things, plus a bag of chips, 2 12 packs of coke (because they were “buy one, get one free), and a newly released DVD?

It doesn’t matter if it’s the grocery store, a clothing boutique or the giant sports center . . . stores want to sell you things. When you go there, you will be bombarded with messages: “buy me.” “buy me now.” “you will look good in me.” “I taste delicious.” These messages are hard to overcome, especially when “it’s just one!”

You can actually shop smarter by planning your shopping trips. If you keep a running list of things you need, shop once a week, and buy only what’s on the list, you will save money, save time, and cut down drastically on impulse buys.

Shopping smarter will be easier as you de-junk your spaces because you will really like living without clutter. As you live with less clutter, you think twice before making purchases–”How often will I use this? Where am I going to put it? Do I really need it?”

5. Set a buying waiting period

Predetermine a waiting period from when you decide you want to buy something to when you allow yourself to actually make that purchase. When you do find something you really want, put it on a list; the “Waiting List,” with a date. When your waiting period is up, reevaluate and decide if you still need the item. If so, go get it. If not, scratch it off the list.

How long should you wait? It’s up to you, but take the size of the purchase and your personal spending habits into consideration. You might choose to wait a week, a month, or even six months; the length of time can be different for each object on the list. Whatever the amount of time is, it should be longer than you think you can really wait. You can do it.

Think of past purchases that you now regret. Why did you buy those items? How did you buy them (is pulling out your credit card just too easy for you? Or was your cash burning a hole in your pocket?) Did they bring the joy you thought they would? How long did it take before you regretted your purchase? Use past experience to guide you in setting up your waiting period. Leave your credit cards at home if you need to.

6. Fill yourself up with other things

So often we are buying Stuff to change who we are or how we feel. And it usually works, but only for a minute. The next time you feel the need to buy something you don’t really need, try one of these activities instead; they will help you feel better, and they are great habits to get in to.
• exercise
• get in touch with nature
• play with kids at the park
• volunteer to help with a cause that’s meaningful to you
• take time to write down what you’re grateful for
• do something spiritual

Each of these 6 suggestions requires you to take control of the direction of your life and be smarter with how you spend your money. As you take responsibility and guide yourself into smarter purchases, you will feel powerful as you Shut the Stuff up!

gulls in flight

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#1 Becky@FamilyandFinances on 02.27.08 at 1:22 pm

In regard to the de-cluttering aspect, it amazes me the number of people who fill their garage up with junk while their nice cars sit outside!
The Phonebook Fridays sound interesting. I can’t wait to read your first one!

#2 Mark McCullagh on 02.28.08 at 2:56 pm

I came here from Court’s site after reading your excellent “Dead American Author” post there.

I almost starting laughing because: I purposely do not own a TV, I do shop less, and I do fill my time with spiritual pursuits, exercise, and some volunteer work.

I’m also starting to blog about what I call “Spiritual Marketing.”

#3 2paupers » Blog Archive » Carnival of Living Cheaply. on 03.01.08 at 8:56 pm

[…] Butler presents Shut the Stuff Up! posted at The Butler Project, saying, “Recognizing and fighting off materialism is one of the […]

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[…] Butler Project has suggestions for resisting the urge to spend money. […]

#5 Nina's Writing on 03.03.08 at 11:12 am

>1. Do I feel happy/peaceful when I look at this object?
That’s a great tip! I totally do that with some of my things; I just feel bad even looking at them (probably from guilt!).

#6 Carnival of Debt Management #41 | Credit Card Lowdown on 03.04.08 at 7:24 am

[…] Butler presents Shut the Stuff Up! posted at The Butler Project. If you can’t fight off materialism you may not ever be able to […]

#7 SmallCents on 03.04.08 at 12:44 pm

Great post! I’m going to include it in my weekly roundup on Saturday.

#8 Lynnae @ Being on 03.04.08 at 1:32 pm

I found you while going through the submissions for the Money Hacks Carnival. What a great post! I’m 100% with you. Can’t wait to go through your site a little bit more!

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#11 Four Pillars on 03.05.08 at 7:30 am

Very good post.

Actually the kind of beer I drink does make me a bigger man…however, since I’m trying to lose weight - I’m cutting down! :)


#12 MoneyBlogga on 03.05.08 at 8:55 am

I’m planning a huge garage sale to get rid of all the stuff we have that we don’t need/use. The plan is to live a spartan life, rich on family experiences and barren on stuff. That is the plan. Great post.

#13 Shanti @ Antishay Ventenne on 03.05.08 at 10:35 am

This is SO GREAT! I have been writing all about how to not let consume-more tricks in stores get to you and all about how I’m simplifying and de-cluttering my life. Thank you for this. I have another post coming out this week all about clutter and I have to link back to this one. :) Well done.

#14 RealEstateUndressed » Blog Archive » The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance on 03.06.08 at 9:33 am

[…] Shut the Stuff Up! at The Butler Project by Mark Butler. […]

#15 Kate on 03.06.08 at 10:52 am

You’ve inspired me! My goal is to have my house de-junked by April. Good article and lots of good tips!

#16 Antishay on 03.09.08 at 7:38 pm

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